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Little-known Poisons Present Big Danger

24-Hour Poison Control Center Hotline: 1-800-222-1222

Sure, you keep bleach, prescription medications and drain cleaner out of the reach of small children. But a few other common substances around your home may be just as dangerous.

The good news is that education about the dangers of basic household items has drastically reduced the number of severe cases of poisoning. But Stephen Thornton, MD, medical director of The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center, said more work needs to be done.

“There are many products not as commonly thought of that can cause severe health problems – even death – among small children or teens,” he said.

Top seven surprising poisonsCall 1-800-222-1222 immediately if you think someone has been poisoned. The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

  1. Eye drops
    Many eye drops contain the drug tetrahydrozoline, which is similar to a hypertension medication used to control high blood pressure. If ingested, a child may experience very low blood pressure and unconsciousness. The National Institutes of Health reports that the consumption of these eye drops may result in coma, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, blue lips and fingernails and seizures. By pouring eye drops into a drink, they can also be used as a date rape drug. 

  2. Essential oils 
    What may seem like a holistic and natural approach to health may actually be a poisonous possibility. Eucalyptus oils and others can cause very serious problems for children who drink them, including unconsciousness and breathing difficulty. Wintergreen oil, used to treat aches and pains, can kill a child with just a teaspoon of consumption, said Dr. Thornton.

  3. Cough and cold medicines
    Many medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM), which, when taken in excess, can act like PCP and cause hallucinations. "Every month, we see three or four teenagers in the emergency room for overdoses of cough syrup," Dr. Thornton said. "It only takes a half to a whole bottle to cause severe issues. Many teens experiment with it as a way to get high."

  4. Laundry detergent pods 
    Detergent pods may be convenient, but make sure to keep them out of little ones' hands. "They're a big risk for kids," said Dr. Thornton. "Because they look like candy, children eat them. They have different symptoms than drinking regular detergent does. It's really serious and kids may experience difficulty breathing, unconsciousness and brain damage."

  5. E-cigarettes
    Although thought to be safer than cigarettes when smoked, the liquid contains high levels of nicotine, which is highly poisonous if ingested. If a child were to drink a whole cylinder of liquid, it could be fatal. "Most of the time, vomiting results,” said Dr. Thornton. “But when it doesn't, the child could die. Treat this stuff like it's a drug and keep it away from young children."

  6. Plants 
    The tropical, glossy, shiny leaf plants that make your house look so nice may actually be a danger to your children. They contain high toxins that cause severe irritation in the mouth, affect breathing and cause dangerous swelling.

  7. Hydrocarbon oil 
    Tiki torch oil, sewing machine oil, some perfumes and lemon furniture polish, among other substances, contain hydrocarbon oil. "The nature of these substances is that even if they are swallowed, they cause choking and are inhaled into the lungs," explained Dr. Thornton. "Once in the lungs, they coat the airways and cause grunting, coughing, wheezing and an inability to breathe. Children who get this kind of poison in their systems could need a ventilator and the results could be fatal.”

Call 1-800-222-1222 immediately if you think someone has been poisoned.

The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222, is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year by medical professionals who are nationally certified in poison management. The center is one of only 55 such poison control centers in the United States.